Thursday, June 28, 2007

No Sex in Gay Marriage

David Blankenhorn in his new book The Future of Marriage points out something I had not noticed: proponents of homosexual marriage define marriage as the close relation of two people who love one another. They do not include sexual intercourse as part of the definition. By that standard, nearly all parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, siblings, even most close friends would be "married."

The Future of Marriage reviews the anthropological evidence for the early origins of intense sexual attachments among human beings, which normally result in children. Blankenhorn then makes the case that marriage is a cultural achievement, created in historic times, to permanently unite these sexually bound parents to raise their children. Once invented, marriage has become a nearly universal social institution through which a man and woman turn their sexual relation into a social relation for rearing the kids that their sex produces.

Blankenhorn can only find two schools of thought that do not include sex as an essential good of marriage. The first were the early Church Fathers, who were trying to develop a theory of marriage based on the unique relationship of the Virgin Mary and Joseph. They acknowledged that sex was part of the definition of marriage, but they weren't too happy about it. The other school of marriage theorists who define marriage without praising sex are today's proponents of same-sex marriage. Indeed, Blankenhorn says, the same-sex marriage theorists are the only marriage theorists that he has ever run across who do not include sex in their definition of marriage at all. And Blankenhorn has been a professional student of marriage for twenty years.

Blankenhorn thinks that gay marriage proponents don't want to talk about sex because they don't want to talk about children -- children being the main, though not the only, focus of all marriage theories ever developed before the current moment. It occurs to me to wonder, though, if another reason to avoid spelling out the sexual point of homosexual marriage is because most people find the idea of it distasteful, even if they don't think it should be illegal. Tactically, gay marriage may sell better if the campaign is about who you love, not who you have intercourse with, or why.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you're correct in your assessment. It's a lot about how it plays in the media.

Phil Thibedeaux said...

It occurs to me to wonder, though, if another reason to avoid spelling out the sexual point of homosexual marriage is because most people find the idea of it distasteful, even if they don't think it should be illegal.

I think it's almost obvious that discussion of gay sex is a little less palatable for a lot of heterosexuals than discussion of, say, gay hospital visitation rights.

I don't know if this is inherent to discussion of gay sexual contact, though. Generally, people are uncomfortable talking about any category or type of sex that they aren't interested in having (or watching.) Many people find sex between elderly persons distasteful, even though they wouldn't dream of suggesting that it should be illegal (or that the elderly should not be allowed to marry.)

Quotidian Grace said...

Fascinating point! I'd never thought about it that way before. I think you are onto something.

Mark Smith said...

Your last sentence gets it right.

The rest of the post, particularly your continued insistence that child-rearing is the primary purpose for marriage, strikes me as wrong. (Although I will stipulate your knowledge of the early church fathers as being superior to mine.)

Phil - I'm a heterosexual man who is strongly supportive of gay rights. The thought of two men having sex still gives me the willies. That's not "something I wouldn't do" but more like "something that makes my stomach turn". I fight that visceral reaction because I know that this is exactly what it is - my biology trying to usurp my reason.

Alan said...

There are so many things wrong with this it's difficult to know where to begin...

Conservatives rant any time gay people attempt to, as they claim, "shove their sexuality down our throats." But, when we note that there are other plenty of other reasons for getting married, suddenly we're hiding something. If we talked about sex, Gruntled and his conservative friends would observe, "All they ever talk about is sex!" or "Marriage isn't just about sex!" When we don't, it's obviously because we don't want to talk about children. Welcome to another round of rhetorical whack-a-mole. :)

News flash #1: Lots of gay people have children.

And apparently straight people never have sex that isn't procreative?! LOL

Also, I for one don't spend much time talking about sex because my folks raised me to believe that having such intimate discussions with total strangers in public was bad form. I guess seeing the constant bombardment of sexually charged heterosexual images in the media should have clued me into the fact that heterosexuals are obsessed with sex and therefore I need to be more explicit in order to relate to them. ;)

OK, so here goes: Gay people already have sex without getting legally married in this country. We've been doing so for years since you won't let us get married. It obviously isn't about sex then, is it? Of course this invokes the great Catch 22 of this debate: Because we have sex outside of legal marriage (because you won't let us get married) we are therefore promiscuous and shouldn't be allowed to get married. Clever.

I enjoy it when someone who isn't part of a group decides to speak for that group as Gruntled has done here, particularly in a way that questions the motives of that group (what are they hiding?!) Without actually asking anyone who is gay and involved in the struggle for equal rights about the fight itself, he draws his conclusions from some book he reads by someone who himself seems not to actually bothered to ask real gay people their honest opinions.

Even though conservatives would claim that marriage isn't really about just sex in their own lives, they try to make it an issue for gay marriage because let's face it, that's their real objection anyway -- the "ick factor." Thus the conservative strategy here is clear: If you can't win the day on the basis of arguing against things like hospital visitation, health care, equal rights, the nature of marriage, and oh, say LOVE, then take the conversation back to sex, since you know that even our allies experience the "ick factor." Nicely done!

kevjohn said...

Personally I simply don't like breaking relationships down to the way people are having sex. Or the amount of sex they are having. Talking with my married best friend, I found out that he and his wife typically have sex once or twice a week for about 30 minutes a pop. In what possible rational way can we evaluate and define that relationship based solely upon the one hour per week they're engaging in intercourse? Does that one hour completely overwhelm the other 79 waking hours of the week (considering 7 hours of sleep per day and working a 40-hr/wk job) the couple spends together? And how are we to percieve sexless heterosexual couples, or childless ones? Well at least they have the preferred equipment?

Another irksome facet of this p.o.v. is the whole "it's all about the children" aspect. Playing the child-card, as I like to call it, is getting really old really fast. Whenever anyone in this country has a point to make nowadays it's always "think about the children". We have to police the antics of our pro athletes, for the children. Janet Jackson Nipplegate, it's about the children. Fight global warming, for the children. Go to war in Iraq, to protect our children. No gay marriage, for the children. Screw the children. It seems like the only thing we really do for the children is make our arguments in their name.

Chairm said...

I have made a similar point when discussing civil union.

Civil union provides the picture of what SSM argumentation would produce. It is a nonsexual relationship type, as per SSM arugmentation itself.

It shows us what SSMers mean when the demand merger of SSM with marriage recognition.

Look at the recent Oregon legislation for civil union or the UK statute for civil partnership.

In both places marriage has been affirmed as the union of one man and one woman. There is no such thing as "civil marriage" apart from marriage.

So civil union, civil partnership, or civil marriage, as SSMers like to call it, is NOT marital in Oregon and the UK. So, unlike the conjugal relationship, it cannot be said that the core of civil union is a sexual relationship.

Civil union includes no provision for consumation, presumption of paternity, nor adultery. It cannot for such marital provisions are based on sexual intercourse that is extrinsic to the entire category of same-sex combinations regardless of the subsets of sexual orientations.

One cannot reasonably presume that a man has fathered another man's child, for example. It is unreasonable to presume that two women can mate with one another. Sure, SSM argumentation will blur the language into a muddle, but that doesn't change the facts.

So that leaves the "same-sex" category as a vague way to single out gay and lesbian sexual behavior. And, more, that this behaviior merits special treatment.

However, civil union does not require that people demonstrate their sexual behavior; there are no provisions for consumation, etc., and, as per SSM argumenation, if the status lacks certain legal requirements and certain legal provisions, its core lacks those things. In fact, there is no legal requirement for a sexual orientation test -- with medical or psychological confirmation that the people seeking the status are attracted to the other sex, or even to one another.

SSM argumentation emphasizes that legal requirements define the status.

So civil union (or SSM) is nonsexual, by virture of SSM argumentation itself.

But we are still left with this proposal that certain sexual behavior be given special status.

Civil union excludes far more than it includes -- even within the same-sex category. SSMers provide no justification to exclude the wide range of nonmarital and nonsexual relationships from the protections that civil union is supposed to provide to nonmarital families.

Well, I say "no justification", but SSMers will say that identity politics is justification enough -- both to create a special status (whether through SSM or civil union) and to prohibit others from those protections tied to that status.

So, the SSM campaign makes the discussion of marriage a discussion of identity politics, and that is based on pushing for special treatment of only a tiny subset of the "same-sex" category, because it is same-sex sexual behavior that is being given more importance than it merits.

All you have to do to see Blankenhorn's points being made by SSMers is take a good look at civil union in Oregon and in the UK, for starters. A merger that comes with exclusions which contradict SSM argumenation -- blatantly.

Meanwhile, provisions for designated beneficiaries already exist. Protections are available. There is no need to touch marriage law or to change the shared public meaning of marriage. There is no need to create a new relationship status based on identity politics, of all things.

That is quicksand and I do not think it wise to follow SSMers into it.

Phil Thibedeaux said...

That's not "something I wouldn't do" but more like "something that makes my stomach turn".

Hey Mark,
I don't think we're disagreeing here. Clearly, sex that makes your stomach turn is sex that you wouldn't do. I'm not saying there's cause-effect relationship, just that it isn't necessary to single out gay sex as uniquely stomach-turning. Many heterosexual men's stomachs would also be turned at the thought of sex with a woman who was morbidly obese, or with a woman who was over eighty. The "ick factor" seems to be strongly correlated to sex that you wouldn't dream of having.

José Solano said...

There is indeed an “ich” factor, a repulsion factor just as there is an attraction factor in sexual relationships. Some of it is innate and determined by one’s biology and psychology. Very few people want to have sex with a dog or a chimpanzee. Much of it is culturally constructed, that is, your society can induce you, influence you to have sex with almost anything. There seems to be a strong repulsion factor towards incest, for instance, yet with sufficient cultural conditioning this can be overcome. There is a strong repulsion factor in general towards having sex with very young children or babies but with sufficient cultural indoctrination this too can be overcome. If you start with very young children and if the society thoroughly reinforces it, people can taught or influenced to behave in all sorts of ways. The historical evidence from ancient Greece is clear. A society that exalts homosexual conduct can influence just about anyone to engage in homosexual practices. Almost all men in ancient Greece engaged in homosexual practices. Most engaged in bisexual practices and pedophilia was rampant.

The only question I seek to evoke at this time is, So? More to ponder perhaps later.

Phil Thibedeaux said...

Jose,
Your post creates the impression that you think it's valid to conflate homosexuality with incest, bestiality, and pedophilia. But go a little further--there are all kinds of sex acts which will produce an "ick" factor in some people, such that they might not want to think about them: the notion of your parents having sex may disgust you, but that doesn't mean that it's wrong for them to do so. Some people might be bothered or disgusted by the idea of having sex with someone of a different race, or someone who was an amputee, or someone who has hair all over their body--but that doesn't mean that it's wrong to have sex with those people, or that the idea that other people may seek out and desire such sexual contact is wrong.

In response to your "So?", I'll suggest that the "ick factor" is not a sufficient measure of the rightness or wrongness of a sex act, nor are all sexual impulses taught or culturally conditioned.

José Solano said...

Hi Phil,
Your last comment is correct except that I would not use the word conflate nor can I enter into value judgments at this point. I think I’ll let you develop the rationale for that evaluation, if you wish.

Mark Smith said...

"Civil union includes no provision for consumation, presumption of paternity, nor adultery. It cannot for such marital provisions are based on sexual intercourse that is extrinsic to the entire category of same-sex combinations regardless of the subsets of sexual orientations."

Actually, NJ law on civil unions does have a presumption that any children born to one partner are considered the child of both partners as long as the union exists.

I believe that infidelity is covered in NJ law as well (ie. adultery), but I'm not 100% sure at this moment. We have no-fault divorce anyway.

Alan said...

"A society that exalts homosexual conduct can influence just about anyone to engage in homosexual practices."

Interesting. It is strange then, given how our society exalts heterosexual conduct, and given how the overwhelming majority of gay people are raised in straight homes, that so many gay folks experience the "ick factor" when thinking about heterosexual sex.

Say the word "vagina" in front of most of the gay men and the response will be a shudder followed by the very same "ick face" that straight guys would make when thinking about gay sex.

But in spite of the obvious ick factor, as far as I know, no gay people are calling for making heterosexual marriage illegal, even though all you straight people think about is sex, sex, sex as evidenced by the portrayals of your marriages on television, in books and movies, etc.

arturo fernandez said...

"There is a strong repulsion factor in general towards having sex with very young children or babies but with sufficient cultural indoctrination this too can be overcome."

Catholic priests, than, were "indoctrinated" by their pro-pedophelia Catholic religion to engage in pedophilia.

Jose, someone who's Latin (like you) should know that it's more often the case that stigmatizing something can make it more common. Homophobic Latins engage in more male-male sex. Homophobic Arabs are worse, they apparently need to make it a capital crime to stop it. You recently wrote something about heterosexual anal sex becoming more common because we are more accepting of gay people now. As you should know, homophobic Latin men are more obsessed with a woman's ass.

José Solano said...

—Arturo, I will refrain from dignifying such nonsense and confusions with a response.

Anonymous said...

What's nonsense? That Latin males are homophobic and at the same time prize a woman's ass, that they are more disposed to use other males (effeminates) as their women? That is such a common practice in Latin culture that there's even a word for it: "caquino"--a heterosexual male when he uses another male as a woman.

arturo fernandez said...

that was me, my Dear Jose.

D-rew said...

Jose you are acting as though nature overpowers nuture by leaps and bounds when this has been repeatedly shown not to be true. Also incest is especially one of the strongest biological repulsions out there, and that is true in almost every animal specie. To say one can be many in a society can be conditioned to be incestuous is absurd.

D-rew said...

Wow... this

"To say one can be many in a society can be conditioned to be incestuous is absurd."

Should say this

To say any society conditions its members to be incestuous is absurd.

Note to self:hit preview next time

José Solano said...

Hi d-rew,

You’re going to need to study this question of incest much more thoroughly if you’re going to make strong assertions. There is a lot of scholarly work on the subject from as far back as Freud’s Oedipus complex theory. It may therefore have both a “nature” and a “nurture” component to it. There have been numerous societies in which incest was acceptable and practiced, particularly among the nobility. You are mistaken about animals not engaging in incest. Quite to the contrary, it seems to be almost universal among animals. The incest taboo seems to be clearly a human construct and when justified by a society its members do engage in it.

Just Googgle it and you’ll find all sorts of significant studies and understandings. You might start here: “An incestuous society - where incest is the norm - is conceivable even today.” http://samvak.tripod.com/incest.html

Peace.

arturo fernandez said...

Peace and love.

R.K. said...

Gruntled (and others), I think you've hit at only a part of the reason why SSM proponents (in general, I must stress) want to avoid the topic of sex when advocating it.

Now frequently, when discussing things like Reciprocal Beneficiaries, or discussing the question of why siblings, or even just good friends, might not just as well also be allowed to marry if SSM is seen as OK, you get an argument about how it should only be with "that one special person" with whom you "become one", etc, and how sibling relations and friendship relations don't quite fit the criteria. So they often come very close to saying that yes, sexual relations (of some kind) are a necessary ingredient in marriage.

But ask them to spell that out exactly, and they don't want to quite say that.

The reason is obvious: Once you get outside of conjugality, just what IS the definition of "sexual contact"? Does it include kissing, holding hands, petting, etc., or not? And is it possible for people to feel in love with each other and yet decide not to have sex, and if so, why would this disqualify them, etc? Anyway, as we can see, trying to define "sex" becomes really problematic when we extend it to this extent.

But not when we narrow it down. Because there is one type of sexual act which absolutely and qualitatively, not quantitatively, differs from all the others. Only one type of sexual contact is ever capable in resulting in conception. (Putting gametes in a test tube can be called a lot of things, but it is definitely not sexual contact).

Bringing up the issue of sex and its relation to marriage is only bound to draw out this obvious fact and its implications for the argument. The argument for SSM to a large extent depends on the ability to ask of the public "so what's the difference". Well, logically speaking, there is a difference between true marriage and SSM which is quite qualitative: The sexual act performed in man/woman marriage is the only sex which can produce children (whether it does or even can in the particular couple or not). No sexual act performed in SSM can itself ever result in conception, and there is not even the slightest talk on the horizon in science about enabling it to do so (regardless of test tube talk).

I hereby contend that throughout history, marriage has been seen as society's blessing of a couple to perform the one act which produces conception, whether it in fact does in their case or not. This, of course, leaves open the possibility of sibling marriage or child marriage, and these are prohibited for other reasons. But marriage between two of the same gender falls outside of this basic definition altogether.

Which partially explains why SSM proponents don't want to bring up the question. They don't want to expose the obvious qualitative difference; they want to keep focusing on the far less definable issue of love and commitment.

But also, they don't want the public to see the obvious implications of SSM once it is acknowledged that sexual relations are a part of the definition of marriage: That if SSM is equal to heterosexual marriage, we are also saying that same-sex sexual relations (and by extension all that might be considered "sex") are equal to the one act that produces children.

And they don't want the issue to be framed in a way that brings that up to the general public.

Which is why opponents of SSM should stop pussyfooting around the issue and bring it to the public anyway. Ask the public if they believe that all other forms of "sex" are equal to the one which produces children, and point out that if SSM is legalized and seen legally as completely equal to heterosexual marriage, the answer to this question (legally and culturally) will be seen as "yes".

R.K. said...

And peace and love to you, too, Arturo, and all others.

Phil Thibedeaux said...

I hereby contend that throughout history, marriage has been seen as society's blessing of a couple to perform the one act which produces conception, whether it in fact does in their case or not.

I'm curious if it's your belief that a heterosexual couple, both veterans who've had their genitals blown off by land mines, should be prevented by society from marrying?

It would seem to extend logically from your argument.

Chairm said...

Mark: "Actually, NJ law on civil unions does have a presumption that any children born to one partner are considered the child of both partners as long as the union exists."

So what? That is not the marriage presumption. It is not the presumption of paternity. It is NOT a presumption based on the sexual behavior of two men or two women.

With or without such a provision, civil union is a nonsexual type of relationship.

Rather, it is a sort of second-parent adoption that is based on a social partnership.

The marriage presumption is central to marriage recognition. It integrates fatherhood with motherhood. That is extrinsic to the one-sexed arrangement in its various forms (homosexual or not).

It thus leaves open the glaring question about why gay identity politics should be the basis for a new relationship status, at a law.

In the name of "equality" it excludes far more than it includes. What is the justification for denying these other families the very protections that supposedly have prompted the enactment of civil union status?

Blankenhorn is correct. SSM argumentation is an attack on the nature of marriage as surely as it is a push for deinsitituionalization of marriage.